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Strange feats of derring-do

by Dave Dulberg
rock climb
Photo: USC sophomore Johnny Strange goes rock climbing during one of his adventures.

Sophomore Johnny Strange has taken the Trojan name to new heights over the past few years — literally.

The 20-year-old political science major became the youngest person in history to complete the Explorers Grand Slam in April when he parachuted 8,000 feet to land on the North Pole.

In addition to that sub-freezing visit, the Explorers Grand Slam included reaching the South Pole and scaling the Seven Summits — mounts Vinson Massif, Kosciuszko, Elbrus, Aconcagua, Kilimanjaro, McKinley and Everest — the highest mountains on each of the seven continents.

“I was a bit of a wild child growing up, so when I was 12, my parents took me to Antarctica to climb Mount Vinson,” said Strange, who took eight years to complete the historic Grand Slam feat. “They thought when I got there that I would get scared and turn back, but I kept going. And since then I never really stopped.”

Strange, the son of adventurers Brian Strange and Dianette Wells, believes his affinity for climbing the world’s tallest peaks has a lot to do with his free-spirited personality.

“When you are climbing a mountain like Everest, where you are basically isolated in tents for two months away from society, you start to feel like you are in your own little world,” Strange said. “And for someone like me, that can really be a beautiful thing.”

The Malibu native also battles the fears that come with his death-defying passions.

“A big aspect of my training occurs on the mental side of things,” he said. “I always think about worst-case scenarios before I climb. When I started getting into this, there was a lot of pressure on me. People said I was too young or that I wouldn’t make it, and so a big part of all of this was proving people wrong.”

Though it’s a challenge to balance an adrenaline-filled lifestyle — which includes climbing, skydiving, BASE jumping, downhill skateboarding and surfing — with the academic requirements at USC, Strange wouldn’t want it any other way.

If anything, the Sigma Chi fraternity member sees himself as an international representative for the university.

“I have traveled all over the globe and to each continent at least twice,” said Strange, who also is involved in USC’s Structured Curriculum Program. “And yet regardless of where I go, I am constantly representing the USC colors. I may not play a varsity sport or anything like that, but I hope I serve as a symbol for extreme sport athletes on campus. Even when I was at the North Pole, I made sure to plant a USC flag in the ground.”

In addition to representing the Trojan Family, Strange uses his platform as a renowned adventurer to raise awareness about issues pertaining to genocide and Parkinson’s disease.

“Genocide and Parkinson’s disease mean a great deal to me,” Strange said. “Traveling like I have, I’ve seen quite a lot. And although they might seem very different, both causes are about people caring about people. If in some small way I can help, I will continue to do so.”

While the sophomore plans to pursue a career in politics or television after graduation, he hasn’t finished testing his limits outside the classroom. Next up on his list of daring adventures: to swim the English Channel and to scale Bhutan’s Gangkhar Puensum, which likely is the highest unclimbed mountain in the world.

“I view life as an adventure within itself, and I’m just on one big adventure right now,” Strange said. “It’s not easy being a college student and also having this completely different life outside of campus, but I don’t see myself stopping any time soon.”

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